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The Awakening Essay, Research Paper

Books, unlike movies, have been around since the beginning of time. For the most part, they are more meaningful than the movies that are made from these books. This is due to the fact that an author is able to convey his/her message clearer and include things in the book that cannot be exhibited in a movie. For this reason, the reader of the book is much more effected than the viewer of the film. In the novella, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, there is much more evidence of symbolism as well as deeper meaning than in the movie version of the book, Grand Isle. Chopin conveys her symbolic messages through the main character?s newly acquired ability to swim, through the birds, through sleep, and through images of the moon.

Edna Pontellier, the main character of the novel, struggles all summer at Grand Isle to learn to swim. She has been assisted by many people but was always too afraid to swim on her own. One Saturday night, after attending an evening in the hall, Edna swims out for the first time by herself into the inviting ocean. Realizing how easy it is and due to her “excited fancy,” (Chopin, 30) she accidentally swims out very far. At that moment, “a quick vision of death smote her soul, and for a second of time appalled and enfeebled her senses.” (Chopin, 30) For the first time she comes face to face with death. Those are the events described by the book. The movie, on the other hand, only shows Edna swimming out, struggling a little, and returning to shore. In addition, the movie doesn?t mention the strength and joy Edna feels after this experience. She states that she “never was so exhausted in [her] life. But it isn?t unpleasant?it is like a night in a dream.” (Chopin, 31)

At the end of this story, Edna kills herself by swimming out into the ocean. The movie shows just that, omitting two very significant symbols which are present in the novella. The first of these two symbols is the injured bird that?s “beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.” (Chopin, 124) This bird symbolizes Edna?s struggle to become the master her own life as well as her failure to achieve this goal. The other symbol is “the old terror [that] flamed up for an instant, then sank again.” (Chopin 124) This is the same terror she feels when she swims out for the first time. It shows that Edna now understands that the only way she could be free is if she takes her own life.

Another major symbolic image in this novel is the birds. They are, however, almost completely disregarded in the movie. They symbolize repeating cycles as well as the entrapment of women. In the opening lines of the book, the parrot keeps “repeating over and over: ?Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi!?” (Chopin, 1) This represents the cycles that reoccur throughout the novel. One example is the nine-month cycle of life that is evident through Madame Ratignolle?s pregnancy. Additionally, the mocking bird represents the ability to dare and defy for he “hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence.” (Chopin, 1) The movie doesn?t mention any of this.

The entrapment of women is another element that?s represented by the birds. It?s characterized by the “pigeon-house” (Chopin, 99) that Edna moves into. It “stood behind a locked gate, and a shallow parterre that had been somewhat neglected.” (Chopin, 99) The pigeon house represents inequality that women had to face in Chopin?s times. The locked gate shows that women were anything but free during that time period. The two parrots that are in a cage further support this. They are just like Edna hoping to escape from society?s rules and standards. She relates herself to a “bird winging its flight away from [Léonce].” (Chopin, 27) She does this because he treated her like a “valuable piece of personal property” (Chopin, 2) all her life. The movie, once again, doesn?t mention any such symbols.

Although the movie shows Edna sleeping a number of times, it doesn?t reveal the symbolism behind it. Throughout the book, sleep is an important and reoccurring subject. Edna often sleeps in order to recover from the stress of her “awakenings.” After her first solo swim she feels the “physical need for sleep [begin] to overtake her; the exuberance which had sustained and exalted her spirit left her helpless and yielding to the conditions which crowded her in.” (Chopin, 34) She needs sleep to repair her disheveled emotions after her aesthetic and physical awakenings. Without sleep, Edna is physically and mentally unable to realize her ambitions.

Another symbolic example of Edna sleeping occurs at the Church of Our Lady of Lourds in Cheniere Caminada. There, Edna is overcome by her emotions during service. She realizes that she is going against society?s rules. She is taken to “Madam Antoine?s [where Edna] can rest.” (Chopin, 38) This period of rest is vital to restore her power and self-confidence. Although this rest period is shown in the movie, it is not mentioned that she feels as though she has “slept long and soundly.” (Chopin, 40) This symbolizes the fairly tale aspect of her sleep. Chopin relates Edna to the Sleeping Beauty who has awoken to a new world with a new perception of her surroundings.

Symbols of the moon are another aspect that?s ignored in the movie. During Edna?s first solo swim, the author describes how the moon gave her the power and bravery to keep going; it “conveyed to her excited fancy.” (Chopin, 30) After the swim when Edna is talking to Robert, “strips of moonlight,” (Chopin, 32) are visible all around them. They symbolize the untamed feelings Edna has for Robert, her first true love in life. The moonlight makes her feel “the first throbbings of desire.” (Chopin, 32)

Books, more often than not, are better than the movies that are made from them. This is due to the immense power of our imaginations. Readers use their imaginations to fill the space that exists between him/herself and the book with such things as dreams, past experiences, and hopes. For this reason, there is much more depth and symbolic depictions in the novella, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, compared with the movie version, Grand Isle. Due to this, the effect on the reader is much more potent than the effect on the viewer.


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